My first recorded guided MindfulBiology meditation, a guidance on breath and forgiveness, is now available. This fifteen minute offering starts with a focus on the process of breathing and moves from that base to an ailing or hurting body part, gently inviting compassion for the body and forgiveness of its limitations.
In addition to the recording, I’m providing a text version so users can adapt the practice to their needs, perhaps recording the instructions for themselves:
Begin by spending some time in mindful meditation, focusing on your breath. For this practice, follow your breathing in the region of the chest (rather than the nostrils or abdomen). Notice the ribcage enlarging on inhalation and shrinking on exhalation. Feel the ribs in front moving forward as you draw air in, then settling back as you let air out. After a few breaths focused on the front, direct your attention to the sides of the ribcage. Feel the ribs below your armpits expanding sideways as you inhale, then shrinking centrally as you exhale. Again, follow this movement for a few breaths, then shift your attention to the back of the ribcage. If you are sitting up, you can feel the back expand behind you with each in-breath and contract again with out-breaths; if your back is resting against a surface, you can notice how the pressure increases as you breath in and diminishes as you breath out. After a few breaths focused on the back, expand your range of awareness to feel each cycle changing the shape of your entire chest cavity: front, sides, and back. Recall that this breathing goes on all the time, whether you are attending to it or not.
As you follow the breath, bring to mind (and heart) a loving image. Perhaps imagine yourself embracing an intimate partner, or a beloved child or pet. See if you can feel the warmth of love blossoming in the region of your chest, your heart. Work to simultaneously follow your breathing and encourage this feeling of affection; you might notice the affectionate warmth building up, breath-by-breath.
Then, release the focus on the breath but sustain the warm glow of adoration as best you can. Begin to appreciate the way your body is—right here, right now—absorbing oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. Beneath the level of direct awareness, so much is underway: airways moistening, blood moving, cells ferrying the gases of life. This activity is vital to the functioning of every body system, including your brain. It upholds your awareness; it energizes your body and mind. With that tender warmth present in your heart and chest, offer a note of gratitude for this act of support, this movement of respiration, this rhythmic and reliable airflow in the human body. Imagine holding your body in sweet, appreciative embrace.
As you honor your body for its vital capacity to bring you oxygen, see if you can sense how your felt human experience is—in return—important to your body. The body that holds consciousness is not an inert mechanism, but a living, breathing partner. Wordless and vigilant, it cares about your wellbeing.
After doing your best to feel some of that support and caring (which may feel a little challenging at first), turn your attention to an aspect of your body that isn’t working optimally, one with pain, illness, limitation, or disfigurement. Begin by acknowledging that whatever the difficulty, bodily processes must be working well enough to keep you alive, or you wouldn’t be doing any of this. Regard the body region or system that causes pain, worry, frustration, or embarrassment in the same tender way that—moments ago—you regarded your respiratory system. Try to hold it in your mind/heart the way you would hold your beloved if he or she were ill. Even if the beloved were acting a little cranky and uncooperative, you’d still feel affection. You would tend your loved one in this time of need. Offer the ailing body part the gift of positive regard and concern.
Once you feel at least a little tenderness toward whatever isn’t working the way you wish, see if you can generate a sense of forgiveness. The body is trying to respond in an appropriate way, even if it’s not performing as you want or need. The body is not ‘out to get you;’ despite its limitations, it is working to keep you alive. Consider that it could be confused, or stumbling, or aware of an imbalance in your approach to life that’s prompting it to attempt to restore a more centered style. Keep the focus on forgiveness, with perhaps a gentle inquiry, asking if a message might be hidden in this dysfunction. (If the issue is one of infection or cancer, you don’t need to forgive the cells that are causing disease; instead, forgive the immune system that wasn’t able to keep the threat at bay despite its best efforts.) Without doubt, your body is trying to ensure your survival.
After offering as much gratitude as feels available right now, return to mindfulness, with particular focus on any sensations of warmth in the chest and heart. If the warmth doesn’t feel like affection, but simply body heat, that’s OK. Just focus on it anyway. Spend a few moments savoring this vital sensation of Life.
When you are ready, begin to move your fingers and toes; begin to pay more attention to your surroundings, and gradually return to a level of alertness appropriate to whatever comes next. If you are in bed, you might just drift off to sleep. If you are taking on a challenging task, you can meet it feeling strong and supported.
At all times, we are embraced by these bodies, and by exploring inward sensations we begin to feel that tenderness and savor it, the way one savors the embrace of a loved one.